SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CBS13) – The mastermind behind an immigration scheme that arranged sham marriages to immigrants from Russia, Ukraine and Eastern European nations to help them stay in the United States has pleaded guilty.
Sergey Potepalov entered the plea today. Federal prosecutors said he and others “made a business out of marriage fraud” since 2002, arranging at least nine marriages to circumvent immigration laws.
Foreign nationals paid up to $10,000 to Potepalov and an associate, Keith O’Neil, 44, of Sacramento, to arrange for the marriages. U.S. citizens who agreed to the marriages were paid up to $5,000.
“Mr. Potepalov’s business of selling phony marriages is over, but our office remains committed to prosecuting aliens or U.S. citizens who would try to circumvent our immigration laws through fraud and deceit,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner.
Court documents show Potepalov was the leader of a scheme with 13 other defendants who were charged with conspiring to commit marriage fraud, to defraud the United States, to make false statements, and to induce an alien to enter and remain in the United States.
Eight of those defendants have also pleaded guilty. One defendant is still working his way through the justice system. While, four other defendants are listed as fugitives.
Potepalov is scheduled to be sentenced in August.